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Bulgarian Turk politician faces embezzlement trial August 4, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Turkey, Turkish minority of Bularia.
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The leader of Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish political party will be tried for alleged embezzlement in a case seen as a test of the judicial system’s commitment to addressing high-level corruption.

Ahmed Dogan, head of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, is due to appear next month before the country’s supreme administrative court following an order by parliament’s commission for fighting corruption, according to an official.

Mr Dogan, a senior politician who in the past has boasted about his connections with local business groups, is accused of illegally accepting Lev1.5m ($1m) as a consultancy fee in a project to build four hydroelectric power plants in south-east Bulgaria.

Mr Dogan has not commented on the charges but at the time they were made public a spokesman from his party denied that Mr Dogan was involved in wrongdoing.

If found guilty, he will be fined and asked to repay the consultancy fee.

“This hearing is going to be a test of the court system … Politically it shows that high-ranking politicians are no longer considered to be above the law,” said Ognian Shentov, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, a Sofia think-tank.

The European Commission last month criticised the judicial system in its annual report on Bulgaria’s progress on meeting European Union judicial standards.

It said the courts did not achieve enough convictions and should show “a stronger sense of responsibility.”

A former deputy MRF leader, Osman Oktay, claimed in a television interview on Monday that the consultancy fee paid to Mr Dogan had “amounted to a bribe and an abuse of power”.

Mr Oktay told a private Bulgarian television station that Mr Dogan was not qualified to work as an engineering consultant.

Mr Dogan, a philosophy graduate who was imprisoned under communism for defending the rights of the ethnic Turkish minority, is Bulgaria’s longest-serving political party leader.

He founded the MRF shortly after the collapse of communism and participated in a series of coalition governments until last June’s general election.

NEK, the state-owned electricity company, financed the four hydroelectric projects through loans from international banks.

Mr Dogan was hired as a consultant on the 85 megawatt Tsankov Kamak plant in a deal arranged through a Bulgarian subcontractor.

Boyko Borissov, Bulgaria’s prime minister, earlier this year ordered an investigation into large cost overruns at Tsankov Kamak.

The plant is expected to start operating by the end of this year, three years later than planned. It is projected to cost €430m compared with a initial budget of €220m, according to NEK.

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